The Word is our center

Torah PortionShemini (Eighth) Vayikra/Leviticus 9:1-11:47

Haftorah Reading: II Samuel 6:1-7:17

Today, we look at the third Torah section of Leviticus or Vayikra. Over the last weeks we have read seven Torah sections about the gathering of supplies, building, and now consecrating the Tabernacle or Mishkan. This section brings us to the inauguration of the Tabernacle as a place where G-d’s Presence would meet the people.  The last step in this process was for the priests to set everything in order as far as making sure all the objects and priests taking part in this ceremony would be ritually clean and holy. Nothing that was profane could be in the Presence of G-d Almighty.


I would ask you to look at Leviticus 10:9-11. These verses come right after the death of Nadav and Avihu, two of Aarons sons. First question that arises is why did G-d take the life of these two young priests? Remember, they as well as all the other priests, had undergone a week of intense training on how to carry out their duties. Because G-d spoke the words of 10:8 to Aaron immediately after his son’s death, it would seem to indicate that they may have been under the influence of alcohol and this caused a lapse in judgment when they brought profane fire into the presence of G-d. I would like us to dwell on this for a bit. What can we learn from this case?

Most of us, I believe, have no problem with the prohibition in these verses saying, “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting lest you die.” They were going into the tabernacle to fulfill their priestly duties and needed to have a clear head and G-dly judgment. However, let us look a little deeper and see what might apply to us in our lives.  In verse 10:10 we find a Hebrew word that might help us answer this question. That word is “lahavdil.” This word means to separate, make a distinction between one thing and another. We see it in Genesis chapter 1:4 where G-d separated light from darkness, the waters from dry land and water from water. It is also evident in the beginning and ending of Sabbath. The service at the end of the Sabbath is called, “Havdala.” You can see the connection of Havdala to lahavdil. The Havdala service separates the Sabbath from the other 6 days of the week.

As we look at scripture we see over and over the separating of things and people. G-d is a G-d of order. The priests in theTabernacle were to instruct and teach the people how to separate the holy from the profane or unholy. For example, just any offering was not acceptable before G-d. It had to be one that conformed to the rules of holiness. Therefore when Nadav and Avihu, for whatever reason, entered into G-d’s presence with profane fire they paid the price for it.

There are, for all G-d’s people, things permitted (holy) and things not (unholy). How are we to know the difference? In Leviticus 10:16 it says Moshe “searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering and behold it had been burned up.” This word search, in Hebrew is dorash. I this verse it could be read as, “searching, he searched.” The point being, we can and must apply this same principle to our lives. In order for us to know how to live our lives as G-d’s people we are required to search and search G-d’s Word. We cannot rely on going to a meeting for an hour a week, asking a friend’s opinion or checking to see what everyone else is doing. None of these options fulfill our  responsibility before the Father. We must search the scriptures for ourselves. It is the responsibility of each of us to search each day, to discuss it at home, on the way, morning and evening. The Torah must be included in our searching. 

In John 5:39 we read the words of Yeshua as He spoke to the Pharisees. He said, “Search the scriptures diligently. In them you have eternal life.  Because it is these scriptures that testify about me.” Be encouraged, we are expected and in fact must search the scriptures each day. By this we can discern clean from unclean, right from wrong.

Lastly, in our portion, Leviticus 10:16 we read again, the words “darosh, darash.” These two Hebrew words are also found at the exact half way mark of all the words of the entire Torah, This is no accident. G-d is teaching us that our spiritual life should revolve around studying scripture every day.